19/02/2015 22:13 GMT | Updated 20/02/2015 04:59 GMT

Stephen Hawking Calls Aggression The Human Failing He'd Most Like To Correct

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British theoretical physicist professor Stephen Hawking attends a symposium during the opening of the PLANCKS event in Amsterdam, on May 23, 2014

Aggression should be weeded out of the human race and replaced by empathy, according to renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking. The celebrity scientist also said he believes the future of the human race depended on space travel. Prof Hawking made the comments while escorting an American visitor around London's Science Museum as part of a "Guest of Honour" prize.

Adaeze Uyanwah, 24, from Palmdale, California, won the tour after producing a blog and video describing a "perfect day" in the UK capital. She asked Prof Hawking what human shortcomings he would alter, and which virtues he would enhance if this was possible.

He replied: "The human failing I would most like to correct is aggression. It may have had survival advantage in caveman days, to get more food, territory, or partner with whom to reproduce, but now it threatens to destroy us all. A major nuclear war would be the end of civilization, and maybe the end of the human race. The quality I would most like to magnify is empathy. It brings us together in a peaceful, loving state."

The professor added that human space exploration was "life insurance" for the human race and must continue. "Sending humans to the moon changed the future of the human race in ways that we don't yet understand," he said.

"It hasn't solved any of our immediate problems on planet Earth, but it has given us new perspectives on them and caused us to look both outward and inward. I believe that the long term future of the human race must be space and that it represents an important life insurance for our future survival, as it could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonising other planets."

Uyanwah, a teacher and creative writer, who beat more than 10,000 international contestants to win the prize, said: "It's incredible to think that decades from now, when my grandchildren are learning Stephen Hawking's theories in science class, I'll be able to tell them I had a personal meeting with him and heard his views first hand. It's something I'll never forget .."

The Guest of Honour competition was organised by Other elements of the prize included afternoon tea with Downton Abbey's Jim Carter at Lord's cricket ground, a trip to the Royal Opera House with Strictly Come Dancing judge and former ballerina Darcey Bussell, and a tour of the Houses of Parliament with Commons Speaker John Bercow.